Free Speech Online Hindered If gTLDs Not Approved: Susan Crawford

With more than five billion additional people to connect to the internet in the next 20 years, and most of the newcomers not speaking English, free speech online will be hindered if new generic Top Level Domains are not approved argues Susan Crawford in an article for Bloomberg.Crawford, a member of the board of directors of ICANN from 2005-2008, a professor at Cardozo Law School in New York City and a Visiting Research Collaborator at Princeton’s Center for Information Technology Policy says “this next generation will use the Internet in ways we cannot imagine, and its innovations will change the world.”Arguing that the creation of new gTLDs is important for the ongoing development of the internet, Crawford says “if the debate in Washington over the creation of new domain names goes the wrong way, internet policy won’t help the free flow of speech online. The U.S. can help by having the courage to stay the course.””At issue is the Internet’s crabbed naming system,” she says. But the plan to introduce new gTLDs is “not that simple” with “a group of people and companies (led by the Association of National Advertisers) that isn’t happy with the results of the ICANN process is taking a second bite at the apple by asking Congress and U.S. federal agencies for help. How ICANN and the U.S. respond to this attempt at relitigation will have a major effect on how other difficult Internet policy decisions get made.””This is a preview of a battle we will see again and again over the next decade: Should Internet policy be made by governments working together with other stakeholders, as in the ICANN model, or by governments alone? Our shared digital future requires nothing less than a new model of governance, and ICANN is an experiment in applying a stakeholder-governance model to a limited set of issues: policies having to do with IP addresses and domain names. We need to preserve that model as we confront other, larger issues.”Considering the five billion people that are not currently online, Crawford says “the model of governance that we choose for Internet policy should prioritise global interoperability and openness.” Crawford goes on to say “there are plenty of regimes out there, though, that would like to see much greater governmental control over Internet content.”Supporting a recent NTIA suggestion that ICANN work towards educating stakeholders on the new gTLD programme, Crawford says “ICANN has not done a good job educating the American companies that oppose the plan about the ‘purpose and scope of the program as well as the mechanisms available to address their concerns.'”And while Crawford says “ICANN’s policy isn’t perfect” she says “the introduction of new top-level domains will lead to wider choices and lower prices for consumers buying names down the line, and will provide a welcome pressure valve for communities around the world that want recognition in the namespace at the top level.”It is also a crucial time in the internet’s evolution argues Crawford and this policy has to be got right. “Autocratic regimes would like much greater governmental control over Internet content. If the ITU takes control of the plumbing of the Internet, they will be better able to do so.” A transcript of a recent meeting between Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and Hamadoun Toure, secretary general of the ITU notes that Putin said: “We are thankful to you for the ideas that you have proposed for discussion. One of them is establishing international control over the internet using the monitoring and supervisory capabilities of the International Telecommunication Union.”Crawford concludes “this shortsighted U.S. fight over new names could be extremely damaging to the internet’s future. Russia, China, and other regimes already claim that ICANN is an instrument of the U.S. government. When critics attack ICANN, and encourage the federal government to step in, they play directly into the ITU’s plans. This may lead to many other nations joining in a call for government control of Internet resources around the world. The result could be a global internet content policy effectively made by governments that are most interested in restricting access to information. And that would be bad for the 5 billion citizens of the world yet to connect to the internet.

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